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PHL tourism struck by disasters, as visitors avoid even unaffected areas

The Philippines is unlikely to hit its target of five million tourists this year due to damage caused by twin disasters, a tourism official said Saturday.

Super typhoon Yolanda hit on November 8 and a 7.1-magnitude earthquake on October 15, causing devastation in tourist areas which resulted in many cancelled reservations, said Domingo Enerio, chief of the government's Tourism Promotions Board.

Both the 2013 target and the 6.8 million target for 2014 may have to be revised in the face of the damage, he said.

"We have been beset by huge challenges: the earthquake and typhoon. It was a double whammy for the Philippines," he told AFP.

Tourist arrivals up to September had already reached about 3.6 million, up from 3.2 million in the same period last year, he said.

But the disasters will affect arrivals in the last three months which are the peak season for tourists, he warned.

The earthquake, which killed more than 220 people, shattered heritage churches and tourism facilities and damaged roads in the central islands of Cebu and Bohol, both popular tourist destinations.

Less than a month later, super typhoon Yolanda swept through the central islands, leaving more than 7,500 dead or missing and devastating whole towns including popular hotels, beach resorts, and surfing and dive sites.

Worldwide news coverage of the destruction has discouraged visitors, Enerio said.

"These resorts are in that particular area which is very well known in international markets," he said.

"It is not just one destination. The whole country's image has been affected," he added.

To counter this, the government and private sector are making an effort to tell tourists that there are many other attractions in the archipelago which have not been affected by the recent disasters, he said.

Despite the setbacks, the government is still sticking to its target of 10 million tourist arrivals in 2016, up from about 4.3 million in 2012, Enerio added.

"We can come back with a very strong campaign that will inform the world about how beautiful our country is. It still has a warm and welcoming people who are still hospitable to all foreigners," he said. — Agence France-Presse